There was a noticeably fractious relationship between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell during today's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka International Racing Course.
The pair started the race alongside each other on the fourth row of the grid, with Hamilton P7 ahead of Russell in eighth.
Hamilton made a strong start but was forced off in the opening lap by Red Bull's Sergio Perez leaving him with damage, but he persisted in defending his spot which left Russell frustrated.
Neither driver held back as they battled for position until Hamilton was forced wide again and made his first pit stop on lap 16. Russell stayed out until lap 24 on a one-stop strategy requiring a super-long second stint on hard tyres.
It proved a step too far for Russell whose pace rapidly declined in the closing laps. This time it was Hamilton's turn to complain about his team mate holding him up. Russell sounded very unhappy when ordered to let Hamilton past.
“Who do we want to fight here, each other or the others?” Russell sniped as Hamilton went on to finish in fifth, while Russell subsequently also lost out to Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and ended seventh.
Talking of his early battle with Hamilton, Russell said: “Obviously made the first overtake, lost it down the straight which was annoying, and the second chance where he had his right to the line, so part of racing."
Team principal Toto Wolff wasn't in Suzuka this weekend, but Bradley Lord - who is standing in for him on the Mercedes pit wall alongside Jerome d’Ambrosio - was on hand to clarify what had gone on.
"It’s easy to read a lot into those radio messages in the heat of the moment," he said. "As always, we talk about it away from the pressure and the high temperatures of the cockpit in the debrief. That’s where anything gets tidied up that needs tidying up."
After the race Russell played down conflict between himself and Hamilton or the team. “When you’re in the car, 48 laps in, giving it everything, trying to make a suboptimal strategy work, that radio is a tool to release frustration," he explained.
"It wasn’t for any big positions and at the end didn’t change our race result whatsoever." As for the team's overarching decision to try a one-stop strategy, Russell insisted that it had been worth trying: “It was definitely worth a punt.
“The three-stop was closer, or faster, than the one-stop was," he explained. “But the one-stop gave us a chance to be in P3 if there was a safety car or a red flag.
"Overtaking was difficult: you saw Piastri with much fresher tyres, he didn’t fly by, it took him two laps and he only just achieved it," he said. "It’s easy in hindsight. Ultimately we did have a shot but the end result was a fair representation."
At one point, Russell appealed to Hamilton not to shoot off into the distance in order to give him a hand with DRS, but that failed to help Russell prevent Sainz passing. Hamilton felt it had been a waste of time.
“When they suggested it to me, I knew that they obviously thought of it from the last race and it made no sense," he said. “I needed to get as far clear ahead as possible.
"I was on my way, I was around two seconds ahead and they asked me to give George DRS," he continued. "I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8 seconds behind.
“Then he got the DRS but then he got overtaken which was going to happen because he was on a one-stop," he added. “Then [Sainz] was right on my tail, so not ideal. It made it very, very hard for the last couple laps.
"For sure we will talk offline, [that's] the best way always to do it," he said about the various issues that had arisen, including his clash with Russell.
Once tempers had calmed down, Hamilton agreed with Russell that overall they had achieved its best possible outcome in the circumstances. “I think as a team we've got to be grateful for fifth and seventh. It's better than sixth and seventh.”
"It was a hell of a fight. I was really trying to hold on. We did manage to get ahead of Sainz which was great teamwork and good work from the guys in the pit stop and the strategy group. That was the maximum we could have achieved today."
Hamilton revealed that his car had been compromised by the first lap clash with Perez. "I got a little bit of damage to my front wing, but more so the clipped wheels the front was hit so much.
"All of a sudden I was getting lockups on the right front, which I hadn’t had all weekend. So I think the corner weights were probably a little bit out there
Hamilton was already looking ahead to the remaining six races of the season. While Red Bull has wrapped up the constructors championship, Mercedes are still engaged in a close fight with Ferrari over the runners up spot.
"Ferrari brought an upgrade this weekend and they were just that little bit quicker than us here this weekend," Hamilton admitted. "So minimising our points loss to Ferrari today was critical.
"We know how important the battle for second in the Constructors' Championship is. I know how hard everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is working to achieve that," he said. "There is still a long way to go until the end of the season."